Written By Heather Fishel
Published Nov. 22, 2021

Is your car’s carpeting looking worse for the wear? With many miles on the road and a whole lot of daily wear and tear, everything from the once-plush carpeted floor to your fabric seats can start to look grimy. And, let’s admit it, we do just about everything inside our cars, from eating (and spilling) to using pens, sipping drinks, and just generally making a mess on all of the upholstered surfaces. Fortunately, restoring your car’s interior isn’t impossible. All you need is a quality car upholstery cleaner. With one of these cleaning products, you can scrub away dirt and eliminate stains with just a little elbow grease. Wondering which car upholstery cleaners are the most effective? Here are our picks for the best available.

Best Car Upholstery Cleaner Reviews & Recommendations

The Chemical Guys Lightning Upholstery Stain Extractor is one seriously tough cleaning product. It’s a bit of a super cleaner meant to get rid of some serious stains. While it’s formulated for tough spots and residue, it’s gentle enough for upholstery and carpeting. And it’s not just for old, set-in stains. If a fresh spill happens, this is just the emergency product you need to tackle it before it can develop into a permanent stain. Its powerful cleaning agents are designed to work fast and it is very easy to use. Simply spray, agitate with a brush to work into the stain, and then wipe away the residues (and the stain). It also boasts a powerful anti-odor compound and built-in anti-bacterial enzymes that work to disinfect surfaces for a completely clean finish. It’s particularly potent for older cars or long-ago accumulated dirt that just won’t go away. You can also adjust the strength of this solution, adding water to dilute it or using it at full strength for extra-tough cleaning power.

However, do keep in mind this upholstery cleaner may require multiple applications and repeated cleaning in order to fully remove whatever dirt, grime, or grease might be present.

Specs:
  • Size: 12 ounces
  • Formulated With: Triple-action cleaning chemicals and odor-neutralizer
  • Application Method: Built-in scrubbing brush
PROS

Works on dirt as well as odors

Lifts fresh and stubborn, old stains out of fabric

Will work on dirt, grease, and more

CONS

Spray nozzle and bottle can be messy and leak

May take multiple cleaning attempts to work completely on stubborn dirt and stains

When it comes to gently and effectively cleaning tough stains out of all types of upholstery, the Woolite Carpet and Upholstery Cleaner gets the job done quickly and efficiently.
With its unique stain lift technology, this multi-purpose cleaner is designed to tackle tough pet stains like urine, feces, and vomit while simultaneously neutralizing their bad odors thanks to its patented odor elimination process. Use the attached fabric-safe brush to really get deep down into your car’s interior fabric to effectively clean and remove even some of your oldest stains. You can spend just a little and get a whole lot of cleaning power when you opt for this Woolite car upholstery cleaner.

The most significant drawback of this cleaning product as described by customer feedback, however, is you’ll have to put in some serious elbow grease. You’ll have to scrub hard to lift especially tough stains or stuck-on dirt.

Specs:
  • Size: 12 ounces
  • Formulated With: Triple-action cleaning chemicals and odor-neutralizer
  • Application Method: Built-in scrubbing brush
PROS

All-in-one cleaning solution and tool, with a built-in brush head

Scrubbing head gets deep into fabric and carpet fibers

Lifts away even set-in stains

CONS

Scrubbing away stains takes a lot of physical effort

You’ll need multiple attempts to get rid of the most stubborn stains

Honorable Mention

If you want a versatile car cleaning product, then you’ve got to invest in the Car Guys Super Cleaner. This single solution will work on fabric and upholstery, sure, but it can also be used to clean every other part of your interior and even your car’s exterior. This high-quality car upholstery cleaner does indeed come with a premium price tag. However, in return, you’re getting a pretty remarkable cleaning product that’s safe to use on a variety of interior surfaces, including carpets, upholstery, door panels, floor mats, and more, with the exception of glass and instrument panel screens. It’s also formulated to tackle dirt and grime on a molecular level, so if you let it soak into a stained material it can really get to work on stubborn stains.

It doesn’t leave behind the oily surface that some cleaners can, it’s instead formulated to wipe away without a trace. There’s just one negative: On some types of leather, you may see problems like color fading or staining. Make sure you test this cleaner on a small area before applying it liberally.

Specs:
  • Size: 18 ounces
  • Formulated With: Nanotechnology cleaners
  • Application Method: Spray nozzle
PROS

Lifts up dirt via small molecules thanks to nano-technology

Water-based formula with no rinsing needed

Works on different types of fabric and upholstery, including leather and other materials

CONS

Can leave behind stains

May strip color and dye from some fabrics, particularly leather and synthetic materials

Should be applied and used in small sections

The Bissell Spot & Stain Fabric and Upholstery Cleaner is a solid contender if you’re working with traditional car carpeting and seat fabric. It’s designed to work effectively on different types of fabric fibers, and it even comes equipped with the cleaning tool you need to get the job done: A patented fabric-safe brush head. With this toothy brush, you’ll be able to gently loosen stains and other kinds of soiling without a whole lot of elbow grease. Apply the Bissell cleaning solution, and you’ll be able to quickly clean up spots, stains, and even spills. It’ll loosen dirt while also helping prevent future messes with a little protection. It can also eliminate and neutralize odors hiding in your car’s fabric.

There’s just one little detail that could be better. This cleaning solution isn’t exactly gentle on delicate fabrics, and it can be harsh on color too. It’s not suitable for velvet-like material or leather, and you’ll want to test it on a small area before you remove the upholstery color across your entire car.

  • Size: 12 ounces
  • Formulated With: Deep-cleaning chemicals and odor neutralizers
  • Application Method: Built-in scrubbing brush
PROS

Can be used for spot cleaning or whole-interior cleaning

Brush head is fabric-safe for upholstery

Lifts away dirt while eliminating unpleasant smells

CONS

Cannot be used on leather upholstery

Not for use on fabrics that can bleed color or aren’t color-safe

Can be harsh on more delicate luxury materials

The Black Diamond Carpet & Upholstery Cleaner comes in a huge 1 quart bottle and makes car upholstery cleaning a cinch. It’s great to pick up if you’re looking to tackle cleaning upholstery that’s seen better days or hasn’t been cleaned for a while, as it’s designed to tackle both old and new grime.This car upholstery cleaner provides a professional-strength clean but is still safe to use around children and pets, meaning you can spray down the car interior without worry. However, this cleaning solution can leave behind marks wherever you’ve cleaned up. Make sure to test the product before applying it everywhere.

The money-back-guarantee that stands behind this Black Diamond upholstery cleaner is a seriously standout benefit. If this cleaner can’t meet your needs, you don’t have to worry about being out the price of your investment, and that’s some fantastic peace of mind.

Specs
  • Size: 1 quart
  • Formulated With: Professional-strength ingredients
  • Application Method: Spray nozzle
PROS

Comes with a money-back guarantee to ensure your satisfaction

Includes stain remover that works even on old stains in its formula

Safe for kids and pets after it’s been applied

CONS

Not for use on any car materials that aren’t color-fast

Fragrance of the solution is strong and may be unpleasant

Can require multiple applications to work on stains

Meguiar’s Carpet & Upholstery Cleaner is a premium carpet and upholstery cleaner — but it’s not just for average cleaning. It’s a heavy-duty super cleaner designed to leave your car’s interior looking brand new. Made with a professional-strength cleaning foam aimed at really getting to work on deep stains and odors, it’s formulated to be fast-acting, so you don’t have to spray on, then come back to finish the job. It’ll start lifting stains and dirt straight away. While the 19-ounce can is sufficient for a deep clean on all the upholstery in your car, it’s also great to just keep on hand for spot cleaning as and when you notice spills or dirt beginning to build up.

Just note that the container isn’t very secure and customers have noted that it can leak, which can leave you with less cleaning solution than you purchased.

Specification
  • Size: 19 ounces
  • Formulated With: Professional-strength, deep cleaning ingredients
  • Application Method: Spray nozzle
PROS

A heavy-duty cleaner that lifts away stains and longtime dirt in seconds to minutes

Dries clean, with no rinsing and no residue

Works a spot cleaner and whole-interior cleaner

CONS

Can may leak cleaning solution

Nozzle and exact packaging may differ

The Armor All Oxi Magic Carpet & Upholstery Cleaner can offer both good value and some serious stain-fighting capability. And if you’ve got an older car spotted with stains or a used car that could use one really deep clean, this is the product you’ll want to choose. This cleaner is formulated for deep cleaning and is ready to tackle a range of deep stains, such as motor oil, grass, cola, and coffee. It works with a powerful oxygen-based action to gently but effectively dissolve and lift even ground-in stains, leaving the inside of your car smelling fresh and clean. It may not have all the bells and whistles of more premium products, however, this is a fast carpet and upholstery cleaner, formulated with powerful deep clean action for a really low price.

When it comes to challenging stains, it’s tough to find products that can really make them disappear. However, this Armor All cleaning solution will handle coffee, mud, grass, ink, even pet stains without forcing you to apply it repeatedly just to make a visible difference.

Spec
  • Size: 22 ounces
  • Formulated With: Oxygen-based solution
  • Application Method: Spray nozzle
PROS

Can lift away stains both fresh and years old

Works on pet stains, coffee, mud, ground-in dirt, grease, and more

Penetrates even deep fabric fibers

CONS

Doesn’t offer the protection against future stains that competitors may have

Can arrive broken or nonfunctional

Extra-deep stains may be tougher to remove on light fabric

Best for Floor Mats

If the upholstery, carpets, or floor mats (or even all of them) in your car have suffered heavy staining, then the Blue Coral Upholstery Cleaner is the one for you. It’s specifically formulated to tackle a wide range of dirt and stains, and it’s effective on grease, coffee, lipstick, and a range of other difficult stains including blood. The cap has a built-in stiff brush to really help you to get the product deep into the weave of fabrics to really tackle seriously baked-in and stubborn stains. It’s easy to find cleaning solutions that promise to get rid of grime, but it’s quite difficult to find one that’ll get your car’s floor mats perfectly clean. This product can handle the job, and it’s fantastic for those messy, rarely cleaned mats.

However, there is a drawback. That built-in scrubbing brush is actually kind of flimsy according to most customers, and it may not hold up to serious elbow grease. You might want to rely on other cleaning brushes instead.

Spec
  • Size: 22.8 ounces
  • Formulated With: Stain lifters and odor neutralizers
  • Application Method: Built-in scrub brush
PROS

Easy to apply anywhere, at any angle

Gets to work quickly, even before you begin brushing and scrubbing

Holds enough cleaning solution to work on large areas

CONS

Scrub brush is flimsy and prone to breaking

Stains can take multiple applications to fade and disappear

Doesn’t protect against future stains

The Chemical Guys Carpet and Upholstery Shampoo is a more specialized upholstery and carpet cleaner. This high-quality cleaner is formulated just for fabrics, and it offers a foaming shampoo solution with built-in Biotechnology to tackle dirt and grime at a molecular level for truly deep cleaning action. At the same time, it’s remarkably mild, containing no abrasive-cleaning agents like bleach or ammonia. When you use this The Chemical Guys’ cleaning solution on your car’s carpet and upholstery, you’ll have plenty for multiple rounds and cleaning attempts. The solution is potent enough that you can dilute it if you’d like and still get pleasant results.

What could be better? Well, it’s strong but may not be strong enough for some especially tough stains, like coffee or vomit. You’ll have to try multiple applications to tackle some of these.

Specs
  • Size: 16 ounces
  • Formulated With: Biotechnology and non-abrasive cleaning agents
  • Application Method: Shampoo
PROS

A little is powerful enough to cover plenty of surface area

Made with no toxic chemicals or color-damaging detergents and ingredients

Works without requiring a lot of elbow grease

CONS

Isn’t tough enough to tackle all types of stains with one application

Small section-by-section cleaning approach is most effective, but time-consuming

How We Selected the Best Car Upholstery Cleaners 

To help you choose the best car upholstery cleaner for your vehicle — no matter how dirty it might be — we compared a wide selection of different cleaning products and solutions available on Amazon. In the process, we considered different details that confront car owners, like the amount of scrubbing required, the amount of cleaning solution (and if it’s potent enough to tackle tough dirt or stains), stain-protection and stain-removal capability, and whether or not you need to perform extra steps during the cleaning process.

The products mentioned above are easy to use, powerful enough to break down and remove stains that are both new and old, versatile enough to work on everything from the carpet on your car’s floor to the floor mats to the headrests of every seat, and come from known companies we’ve used in the past. And we didn’t forget about different upholstery fabrics or materials, either, nor what customers had to say.

“Our product selections, rankings, and awards for this story are based on research. While we haven’t conducted real-world testing on all of these products yet, we’ve looked at consumer testimonials and data, tutorials, and general discussions on social media and in forums. We also consider price and specification in the context of the segment. And, of course, we rely on our institutional knowledge of the automotive landscape to weed out weak products.”

Buying Guide/What to Consider When Buying Car Upholstery Cleaner

Read on for our handy guide and some tips and tricks that, combined with the perfect upholstery cleaner, will help to leave your car interior looking its best.

An effective car upholstery cleaner is a must-have for any vehicle owner.

Types 

Sprays

Spray-on car upholstery cleaners are the most popular kind you’ll find while shopping. Equipped with either a spray nozzle or a built-in brush head that also sprays out cleaning solutions, these products allow you to spritz cleaning solution wherever it’s needed. Depending on what comes with the cleaner itself, you can then scrub them in with different upholstery cleaning tools or the built-in brush. Sprays are convenient and incredibly easy to apply, making them handy whether you’re doing spot- and stain-treatment or total upholstery cleaning.

Shampoos

Shampoos are another variety of car upholstery cleaners. They don’t feature an applicator; instead, you can pour a little onto a cleaning cloth or dilute the solution with water, depending on its strength and formula. Then, you rub the shampoo into your car’s upholstery, carpeting, and other soft surfaces. Shampoo cleaners can either be plain liquid or foaming shampoos, with the foaming action being a bit easier to see once it’s been applied. Shampoo-style cleaners tend to be a little messier to use, but they can be extra-potent.

Key Features

Easy Application

While both spray applicators and applicator-free solutions can be equally effective, it’s important to choose a car upholstery cleaner that you won’t struggle with. You want your cleaner to be easy to apply, one that doesn’t make as much of a mess as you’re attempting to clean up. Look for a product that offers a built-in, straightforward, and mess-free application, so you don’t have any issues when you’re applying broadly throughout your car or on minor stains and spots.

Versatility

Some car upholstery cleaners are more specialized – stain and spot removers, for example, or heavy-duty deep cleaners made for carpeting and floor mats. It’s a good idea to stock your garage with a highly versatile cleaning product, so you always have a cleaner that’ll get the job done. Be sure to look for a car upholstery cleaner that can clean up general dirt and grime plus tackle stains; that way, you have one cleaning solution that goes a long way towards cleaning every kind of a mess inside your vehicle.

Stain Treatment and Protection

A bonus of some car upholstery cleaners is their ability to target old, set-in stains and protect future stains from occurring. If you can find a cleaner that treats existing stains and protects against future ones, you’ll get even more value out of the product. In addition to getting your car’s upholstery extra-clean, these kinds of cleaners will also keep your interior looking spotless – literally!

A car upholstery cleaner is integral to preserving your car’s interior.

Tips and Tricks

As with something you do for a long time, you pick up a few tips and tricks along the way in terms of selecting the right product, and/or using it. That’s the case with us and car upholstery cleaners. To help you bridge the information gap, here’s a selection of what we’ve learned along the way.

  • When you’re using a new car upholstery cleaner for the first time, make sure to test it out in a small, inconspicuous spot before using it everywhere. Some cleaners can mess with delicate materials or make colors fade, which can be pretty problematic if you start applying them all over your interior.
  • Not all upholstery cleaners are suitable for all parts of your car’s interior. Leather, for example, can’t survive harsh cleaners. Your carpeting, on the other hand, will need a tougher cleaner. 
  • If you want to opt for a high-strength cleaning formula, you can always dilute the solution if needed. Just add water, and you can weaken stronger cleaning products in seconds.

The Best Car Upholstery Cleaner FAQ’s:

Q: What is the best product to clean car upholstery with?

The best upholstery cleaner for your car is one that is designed specifically for your car’s upholstery, whether it’s fabric or leather, and proven to be effective against a variety of stains while still being appropriate and gentle enough for your particular type of upholstery so that you won’t end up inadvertently damaging the same upholstery you’re trying to clean.

Q: What do professionals clean car upholstery with?

Professionals use a wide variety of car upholstery cleaners depending on the fabric and the amount of dirt and stains, but the Chemical Guys Lightning Upholstery Stain Extractor and the Car Guys Super Cleaner tend to be two highly regarded products that are often relied on by professionals. 

Q: What is the best way to clean dirty car seats?

If your car seats are made from vinyl or leather upholstery, they’re a lot easier to clean than if you have stains on your fabric upholstery. To effectively clean fabric upholstery, try no to let the stain set too long. If it’s fresh, try blotting up as much as you can with an absorbent microfiber cloth or towel. Don’t RUB IT AROUND! You’ll only spread the stain more. Use your chosen upholstery cleaner sparingly to start and add more carefully until the stain is removed. Blot away any excess cleaner with a damp cloth. 

Final Thoughts

Now that you know all you need to know about the best car upholstery cleaners and how to use them, don’t wait to go out and stock up. Whether you choose the Chemical Guys Lightning Upholstery Stain Extractor, the Car Guys Super Cleaner, or one of our other highly recommended upholstery cleaners, it’s definitely a product that is good to have on hand and ready to go before your upholstery stains get really bad or out of control. It’s a lot easier to maintain upholstery that looks new if you’re diligent about it and don’t wait too long in between cleanings. Do you have a favorite car upholstery cleaner that didn’t make our list? Hit us up in the comments and let us know what it is and why you love it.

Sources:

  1. How Often Should You Wash Your Car? – HowStuffWorks
  2. 5 Tips for Cleaning for Fall – HowStuffWorks
  3. 4 Tips For Protecting The Interior Of Your Car This Summer – HuffPost

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